Realizing the Boundary Waters conundrum

Daily Editorial Board

Minnesota is one of the country’s mining giants. It is currently the largest producer of iron ore and taconite in the United States. The Minnesota River Valley is also a vast ground for clay mining.

When Donald Trump was elected President, one of the key promises he made to the American people was to revive the mining business. Mining in northeastern Minnesota is a vital part of people’s livelihood. And when Trump argued that the mining industry would be a vital part of his administration, people rallied around the cause.

The disparities in political leanings between the Twin Cities and rural parts of Minnesota is startling, so much so that Minnesota almost voted Republican — something that hasn’t happened since Richard Nixon’s presidency in 1972. And while this can’t be specifically attributed to Trump’s mining bargain, his argument about mining does encompass an important microcosm of economic realities in rural communities across the United States.

As people continue to rally around mining and energy-related jobs as a central source of economic growth, there are important things we should realize.

First, Donald Trump will likely break his promise to the mining community. Evidence of this is found in how his position has shifted dramatically on coal mining — a substantial centerpiece of his campaign.

While Trump may certainly decrease the regulatory burden on the coal industry, the demand for coal is, in fact, going down. Trump isn’t an economic wizard — he is still at the whim of market conditions. But perhaps even more importantly than demand, most energy conglomerates are quickly switching to machinery to do the labor behind mining jobs, which means that companies will continue to profit while employment progressively falls. The result: no economic support to those who voted for Trump.

Curiously, communities that support a new age of mining are also the ones that will most likely be hurt by increased mining activity.

Depleting important minerals has important environmental costs. Much of the discussion around environmental costs in Minnesota revolves around the Boundary Waters. The largest issue with mining is acid runoff, which contaminates nearby water supplies. While people are quick to focus on economic situations, the protection of water has profound impacts on quality of life, which often eclipses current employment statuses.

There is nothing inherently American about protecting mining companies and the mining business at large. Our obsession with mining jobs stems from early industrialization, but hasn’t advanced into the new age. Mining that affects environmentally protected land like the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness does no good for anyone in the region in the long run.